Monday, July 29, 2013

lake wobegonism of the week

The Lake Wobegonism of the Week comes to us from the Wikipedia article on Snowflake, Arizona:
Snowflake is a town in Navajo County, Arizona, United States. It was founded in 1878 by Erastus Snow and William Jordan Flake, Mormon pioneers and colonizers.

Friday, July 26, 2013

against the x-shaped stand

This post has one purpose: to vilify the X-shaped keyboard stand. This type of stand is as bad as it is universal. Tons of musicians use it — why? Because it's convenient? It's actively inconvenient. Because it's cheap? Good stands are roughly the same price. There is no excuse for it.

Sure, it looks like a good idea at first. I remember the first time I saw one, and thought, "Wow, that's smart! It just folds right out on a single fulcrum." And the way it adjusts height is built in: no troublesome telescoping legs that don't match and rely on screws that strip or get lost: you just make the X wider or thinner and the height adjusts that way.

Except it's horrible, because [a] it doesn't go high enough, and [b] it doesn't go low enough. True story. A six-foot-three keyboardist like me can't stand and play comfortably because if it's at the right height it's far too narrow, and the keyboard perilously sways. I did this for right around a decade at a church gig: the keyboard never fell off outright, but it never stopped rocking back and forth. And then there's [b]: most X-stands don't have a notch that allows the keyboard to sit at the height of a piano. Gaaaaagh! A stand that's designed to hold keyboards but can't actually get to the height of a piano is a stand that isn't thought through.

So, you can't sit down and play it (at the right height), and you can't stand and play it (at the right height, if you're average height or taller). Most players just play it at the wrong height. The thing actually encourages stress injuries.

All of which would be bad enough if it folded compactly: but what you see is what you get. Folds up easily; nice and flat; but long enough so that it's trouble for a trunk or cab.

Then there's the small issue of knees. Every keyboardist has 'em. And every keyboardist who uses one of these infernal stands has bumped those knees against it. Sitting or standing, there's no good way to actually be at the keyboard in a way that functions.

Who designed this thing? Who is responsible for this? Who thought it was a good idea?

For my entire professional career, I've used the tabletop stand:

It's sturdy, travels well, telescopes down into a nice packable unit, goes as high and as low as you want it (at least with my Roland keyboard models, which I also used for 23 years), looks decently professional, gives you plenty of leg room sitting or standing, and is relatively inexpensive. Why on EARTH wouldn't you get one of these instead?

But that's not your only choice. There's also the Z-stand, an ingeniously simple, well-balanced thing that's perfect for gigging of any type:

... or this nicely squared-off one, that simplifies the tabletop design. A little more cumbersome to pack, but great for the job:

And then there's the one I use now, called the T-stand, because it folds up into a concise T-shaped thing. Light, sturdy, everything you want and nothing you don't. I got it because I got a new keyboard, which is enough taller than my old Roland models that it sits too high on the trusty old tabletop of yore.

With the keyboard on top of it, all you see is the legs sticking straight down. It even looks better, more professional, than my old tabletop version. And it weighs 18 pounds.

All of these serve their — I was going to say they serve their purpose better than the X-stand, but that's not it. They serve their purpose. They actually do what they're there to do. This vaults them to a place far above the extremely awful, bone-headed, excuse-less X-stand. And yet they don't sell nearly as well. Why? Why? Why?

The X-stand's existence cannot be justified. It defies all principles of the free market. It must never be bought again. If you are ever in a position to buy a keyboard stand, get one that works — do not reward the makers of the X-stand by buying one, ever.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

washington crossing the delaware

A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!

The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.

Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.

George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern – so go alight, crew, and win!

David Shulman wrote this in 1936. It's 14 lines, but not really a sonnet; it has strange image-heavy locutions like modern poetry does, but is in a traditional form. The more you look at it, the more you notice how strange some of the phrases are.

People who are into such things might begin to look for signs of wordplay: any missing letters? In fact, yes. A, E, I, and O appear, but not U. No F, either. Then you notice that it's really a few letters that *are* there. G (hey, one on every line), W (hey, two on every line!) ... suddenly it hits you that the exact same numbers of each letter are on each line.

Each line, ladies and gentlemen, is an anagram of every other line. They all use the same letters. And, ladies and gentlemen, those are the exact same letters as in the title "Washington Crossing the Delaware."

Saturday, July 20, 2013

pretty interesting

Men are never pretty, are they? The exception is the "prettyboy," the actor who's very handsome and not very good at acting. For the rest of it, men aren't pretty: but women are supposed to be, and punished for not being. You're punished for not being pretty, but then if you are pretty you're punished for not being serious.

And then there's the other meaning of "pretty": you can be pretty smart or pretty good, but that's not the same as being smart or good. Can you be pretty excellent? Pretty superb? Pretty magnificent?

Isn't it interesting how pretty the quality works just like pretty the adverb, diminishing whatever it's attached to. As soon as it enters a phrase, it takes that phrase to the realm of — what? what's the word I'm looking for? — to the realm of the —

Distaff. That's it, isn't it. We're only now beginning to enter an era in which women can be actually smart and not just pretty smart, actually good and not just pretty good. They can even be superb and magnificent.

From the very beginning, "pretty" has never been an all-the-way compliment. Look at the trajectory of the word itself, originating in an old German word for "trick." First it meant deceitful, then cunning, then clever, then skillful, then pleasing, then nice. "Nice," of course, is the other word that binds women from childhood on.

Have we come far? Undoubtedly. I'm thrilled that my daughters are born into a world in which it's not only allowed for them to read, write, own property, vote, sit on a jury, and choose their own husbands, but it's in fact uncontroversial. ("Allowed!" That's the way it was until only yesterday.) Every single one of those hard-won things, wrestled into women's hands with lifetimes of struggle, can now be expected in the lives of my daughters.

Do we have far to go? Undoubtedly. As long as you can predict with a hundred percent accuracy whose status will go up and whose will go down when a man and woman in your office have sex, and as long as you can predict whose will go up and whose will go down when both speak out strongly in the meeting-room, and as long as Rachel Held Evans's husband can say "want to start a controversy in your church? Speak the truth and be a woman at the same time" and get an Amen, I'd say no matter how well we're doing compared to yesteryear, we're still only doing pretty well.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

the girl on the trampoline

A friend took this picture of Greta on a trampoline at someone's house. She absolutely loves the trampoline, loves having one at our house, loves the feeling of jumping. Watching her, you understand that the joy of bouncing is axiomatic. It's just so simple and fun, slipping the surly bonds of earth for an instant, springing up and down to a greater degree than gravity and your own legs could take you.

Look, she's going to learn to read and write. Face it, she's going to have plenty to eat and wear. But one of the great duties of parenthood, one that is, unlike those others, very difficult in America right now, is to let her have a blast — to find a way not to get in the way of sheer joy.

This all helps me put a finger on why I've always been slightly creeped out by the elegaic approach to childhood in stories like The Velveteen Rabbit and Peter Pan and songs like "Waltz for Debby." They're getting it all backwards: being a kid is a drag in that you're constantly thwarted, constantly reined in, constantly on someone else's agenda — but eventually you lose that. You don't ever have to lose the sheer joy and thrill of being in a body and seeing things and hearing things and running and jumping.

Fly, my dear one! Soar and dream, work, achieve, live, jump.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

science and religion, or "science" and "religion"

G.K. Chesterton makes this observation in his St. Thomas Aquinas:

Unfortunately, 19th-century scientists were just as ready to jump to the conclusion that any guess about nature was an obvious fact, as were 17th-century sectarians to jump to the conclusion that any guess about Scripture was the obvious explanation . . . . and this clumsy collision of two very impatient forms of ignorance was known as the quarrel of Science and Religion.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

take the baylor / a&m quiz

Texas A&M University and Baylor University are partnered in a College of Dentistry. Can you guess which one below is the real logo?

Choice A ...

... or choice B?

Hm. Each has something to recommend it. But neither one is actually it. Take a look at choice C:

Choice C, up there, is much more likely to be it, simply because the way the lines are written obscures the plain meaning of a joint venture between two universities to create a College of Dentistry, and makes it look like some sort of venture between A&M and a Baylor College Of Dentistry. And, as we all know, the more confusing it is, the more likely it is to actually be the one.

But what's the bottom line there for? Is the Texas A&M Health Science Center considered a third partner in the venture, or does A&M just want to get its name up there as much as possible? Too much Baylor Green and not enough Aggie Maroon? Who knows?

Perhaps a clue is that the above choice C isn't really the logo. Here's choice D.

Ahhhh!!! That's more like it. The all-maroon color scheme is much more harmonious, and of course harmony is what we're going for here. Still, though, the logo just seems too bland. Not enough variation.

Naturally. That's because the above choice D isn't really it either. I've been yanking your chain the whole time.

Here's the real logo.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

black women, hair, seriousness

It's so interesting, this cultural moment we're in — in which, for huge swaths of the African-American population, there's simply no good simple inexpensive thing at all to do with your hair if you're a woman. In Chris Rock's movie "Good Hair," he pretends to be shocked — shocked! — at the lengths women will go to to adhere to their culture's standards of beauty. The cumulative effect is, nonetheless, shocking in its own way.

I have a friend who's unfortunate to be in Washington DC, where such trends seem to be amplified (and the most prominent African-American women are exclusively straightened/relaxed/woven), but simultaneously quite fortunate to be in academia, where, at least it seems to me, such trends have less power. Is that my imagination? A law professor, for instance, is almost expected to have a closely-cropped afro with a little grey. Certainly if there were one cast in a movie that's what she'd look like.

Hm. Not quite the right picture.

Much more like it. There, you see?

What if my law professor friend showed up at Howard one morning in one of Nicki Minaj's fauvist cotton-candy fantasias?

Something tells me it would be difficult for some students and professors (and administrators) to take her seriously. —ah! "take seriously." That hits on it, right? Here we are in 2013, and we're still very much in the world Anne Hollander described in saying men have an abundance of opportunity to be sexy and serious at the same time (witness our president in a slamming suit), but almost no such opportunity for women. They can be serious (Hillary Clinton in a sober suit with just that much feminine touch) or they can be sexy (Hillary Clinton in a sequined ball gown at an inauguration), but it's just about impossible to be both.

Vexing. Michelle Obama, also with a law degree and career, very significantly chooses sexy/unserious nearly 100 percent of the time — a modern-day Jackie Kennedy — and who's complaining? She's fantastic, especially compared to the choice of her predecessor, the very beautiful Laura Bush, who chose the Bush family route of unsexy/unserious in her prim matronly grandma outfits.

I'm always amused at the solution the boss character in the television show "Suits" arrives at: she shows up (in a $2000-a-month weave, from the looks of it) looking like it's a cocktail party at 10 in the morning. Bare shoulders, gleaming short skirts. There is no possible way an actual law firm would have room for that!! Ah, television.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

chance scoggins on bravery

The writer Chance Scoggins wrote an insightful piece that hinges on the phrase "the home of the brave." Exactly what kind of bravery are we talking about? Read on.
    I enjoyed U.S. History more than most students around me, but in the years that have passed, I've forgotten more names and dates than I remember. Our history is complicated and imperfect. There are facets I don't fully understand.
     But I do understand the man who wanted more for his children than he had for himself. I sense his desperation. I feel his determination. I respect his resolve — crossing an ocean, leaving everything behind that had been, carrying nothing with him but his hope and his will.
     If I'm quiet and still, I can imagine what it might have been like for the early settlers to carve a road where there was nothing, exploring unknown territories, in search of a new and better life, a place to belong. Setting their sights, slowly and painfully, they began to build: a barn, a cabin, a church with a steeple, a community of workers, a little town, a government, a country, a Home.
     Hard as I try, I can't imagine what it must have cost. But I can understand why, having paid that unimaginable price, they'd risk their lives again to protect what they'd built.
     In my mind, I hear their cry for freedom, along with each generation that has followed — so that the pursuit of life, and liberty, and happiness can be enjoyed by all people…including me.
     It makes me want to say "Thank you". I wish I could find a way to somehow reach back in time and say the words.
     To anyone who has paid a price for the freedom I enjoy, to anyone who has fought a fight on my behalf, Thank you. Thank you for clearing a path for me to follow after. Thank you for sacrificing much, so I wouldn't do without. Thank you for acting boldly and with great courage, even in the face of fear, even though it cost you everything. The life I live is built squarely on your shoulders.
     Over 200 years have passed and we find ourselves standing where generations before us once stood, dreaming of days to come, building the future by our words and deeds, creating what will someday be. May we live up to the example of those who've come before us. May we continue to cry out for freedom and sacrifice to protect it. May America continue to be The Home Of The Brave.